Hollywood has a perception of gay men. Watch a gay character in any major TV show or movie and you’ll see a fabulous, fit, fierce specimen sculpted from bronze and blessed with razor sharp wit. While it’s true our community might have better physiques than the straight average joe, a six pack doesn’t equal health. Wellness is about more than body fat percentage. Gay men have some pretty serious issues to work out. Whether it’s physical, mental or emotional, the following 10 unhealthy habits are holding us back from the long, happy lives we deserve.
Too Much Tanning
Who can say no to that tanning bed package at the gym? Apparently, none of us. Gay and bisexual men are twice as likely to get skin cancer, according to a 2015 study from the American Academy of Dermatology. We’re spending too much time roasting like rotisserie chickens under those fluorescent lights. Cut back on your tanning time and be sure to schedule your annual skin cancer screening.
Drug & Alcohol Abuse
Drugs and alcohol are prevalent in our community. They’re so prevalent that the CDC issued a warning about the high rate of substance abuse among gay men. Last year, The Guardian’s Owen Jones wrote that drugs and alcohol amounted to a “demon more powerful than HIV”. This isn’t an afterschool special moment to warn you about the dangers of the two. However, continued use can cause everything from a fatty liver to financial instability. It’s time to get these abuses in check.
Sex is great. But not when it threatens to permanently ruin your health. In the era of PrEP and advanced HIV treatments, we’re finding more reasons to abandon condoms. On one hand, HIV diagnoses across America are going down. But new infections amongst gay men continue to rise. We all have the right to enjoy great sex, but we shouldn’t have to take anything home other than the euphoric memories.
Do you remember that episode of MTV’s True Life? It’s the mini-documentary about guys who’ve chosen to take steroids. One of the subjects was a gay man who was taking ‘roids just to win a body competition at a local nightclub. A lot has changed in the community since that episode aired but our fondness for steroids hasn’t. Mood swings and acne are common side effects. However, steroid use also plays into body dysmorphia. A 2016 Pride.com op-ed details the complexities of balancing steroid use with a positive body image. Spoiler alert-it’s not easy.
Negative body image
The Adonis Complex is affecting millions of gay men every day. The term serves as a friendlier euphemism for muscle dysmorphia disorder (MDD). We see images of other gay men with lean, muscular bodies and we feel inadequate. No workout is too long and no lift is too heavy in pursuit of the perfect body. And thanks to Instagram, we’ve got a healthy dose of body envy served up by the dozens with a single swipe or double tap. MDD leads us to make unhealthy choices about our workouts and diets. It can also lead us to depression thanks to the constant dissatisfaction with our looks.
Guess we weren’t impacted by all those Truth ads that aired in the 90s and 2000s. Smoking, drinking, and the gay community go hand in hand. Many of us write it off as harmless. If you only light up after a night of heavy drinking, what’s the big deal? But cigarettes are bad for you any way you cut it. If you want to be scared straight, spend a few minutes watching some of NYS’ anti-smoking commercials.
Gay men will go to great lengths to hold onto a hot guy. According to the Human Rights Campaign, 26% of gay men and 37% of bisexual men experience rape, physical violence, or stalking by an intimate partner. We are subjecting ourselves to harm from the very people who are supposed to provide pleasure. Relationships require sacrifice but this is too much.
Your annual physical seems like an inconvenience. You’ve been tested for HIV regularly. You work out 5 days a week, and you maintain a clean diet. So, why bother with another doctor’s appointment? Though we gay men have our own set of community-specific health concerns, we’re not immune to the other stuff. HIV testing doesn’t reveal any other STI infections—you need a full STI panel for that. Plus, your annual physical can uncover silent killers like testicular cancer and high blood pressure. Don’t assume that a single test and a gym routine can keep you in good health.
Not Talking Openly About Depression
Mental health is a problem in our community, and we need to talk about it. Gay men are 2-10 times more likely to commit suicide, according to HuffPost. Suicide is the second leading cause of death among LGBTQ people aged 10-24. Whether it’s a lack of acceptance by our families or a failure to find our place within the community, we’re not coping well with gay adulthood. We need to start focusing on mindfulness and self-acceptance so we can achieve the happy ending we all deserve.
Gay men are just as competitive as our straight counterparts. We work hard to have the best bodies, the best jobs, the best vacations and the best outfits. We’re known as a community with a sharp eye for trend. We’ve got our finger on the pulse long before a particular decorating aesthetic or designer goes mainstream. (Hello Queer Eye for the Straight Guy.) But this alpha male competitive spirit can be unhealthy. When you’re always working to outdo someone else or you compare your level of achievement to that of another, you risk your happiness. How can you ever feel satisfied with your life if you’re constantly ranking against someone else’s?